Common Eyesight Problems
Vision is often described as the sense we value the most. If you’ve noticed a sudden change in your eyesight, it can be quite worrying. The positives, however, are that most common eye conditions can be treated. There are also several steps you can take to stop vision problems from getting worse as you age. To help, we’ve put together this guide to understanding the changes in eyesight to look out for, as well as ways that you can go about treating them.
How do I know if my eyesight is getting worse?
Nearly everyone experiences a change in their eyesight as they get older. You’ll know this is happening to you if you start struggling to see as far as you used to, even while you’re wearing glasses or contact lenses. You may start finding it more difficult to read, especially smaller print. Or if you’re straining your eyes a lot because your eyesight is worsening, you may get regular headaches.
If any of these problems is affecting you, there’s a good chance you need to start wearing glasses or contacts – or if you already use them, you may need a stronger prescription. If you don’t have one of your regular two-yearly eye tests coming up, make an appointment to see your optician.
Other things that may signal the start of an eye condition include:
Sudden appearance of a lot of floaters
Seeing halos around lights
Sensitivity to light
What conditions can worsen vision?
There are many eye conditions that can affect your vision. Booking regular eye examinations with an optician is an important way of ensuring any potential problems are recognised as early as possible. Below is a brief overview of some common eye conditions, including the signs and symptoms that you should look out for between visits to the opticians.
Commonly known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), this affects the central part of the retina, called the macula, and is the UK’s leading cause of sight loss. If the macula becomes damaged it can affect your ability to see fine detail properly, and if untreated it gradually destroys your central vision. If you have any form of AMD, you may experience any of the following:
Blurring in the centre of your vision
Distortion of an object's shape, size or colour
Straight lines appearing wavy or fuzzy
Sensitivity to light
Seeing light, shapes and colours that aren't there
According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), antioxidants may help with some forms of condition.i In some cases, anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) drugs are prescribed to patients to prevent vision from deteriorating any further.
While AMD can cause partial loss of vision, untreated glaucoma can cause more comprehensive vision loss. Glaucoma usually develops slowly over many years, with the main cause being a build-up of fluid within the front part of the eye, which damages to the optic nerve. However, because it first affects your peripheral vision, it can be more difficult to notice, particularly during the early stages. Nonetheless, some people may still notice symptoms such as blurred vision and seeing rings or rainbow-coloured halos around bright lights. In a few cases, glaucoma can develop suddenly, causing symptoms such as severe eye pain, eye redness, headache and tenderness around the eyes.
Most cases of glaucoma can be treated with eye drops that help reduce the pressure in the affected eye or eyes. In some instances, it is possible to manage glaucoma through careful diet management and lifestyle changes. A few people will also require laser treatment or surgery to fully treat the condition.
Cataracts are most commonly recognised through the clouding of the lens in your eye, which causes misty or blurry vision. They are a normal part of ageing, and most people start to develop cataracts after the age of 65.iii Similarly to some other eye conditions, cataracts usually develop slowly, which can make spotting the signs early quite difficult. As they progress, you may start to notice the following:
Sensitivity to light
Glare from bright sunlight or bright lights at night
Since cataracts develop gradually, they too are often only picked up during a routine eye test. If your optician diagnoses a cataract in one or both of your eyes, the treatment is to surgically remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial one.
Dry eye syndrome
If your eyes feel constantly scratchy and uncomfortable, you may have a problem with your tear film which could be causing dry eye syndrome. The good news is that while having dry eyes can be irritating, treatments are relatively straightforward. Speak to your GP or optometrist who can recommend a suitable eye drop to help make your eyes feel more comfortable. You could also introduce a humidifier if you’re in a centrally heated or air-conditioned environment. For more in-depth advice on how to manage dry eyes, see our guide to relieving the symptoms.
What factors can affect vision?
Age is a major risk factor for common vision problems such as AMD, glaucoma, cataracts and dry eye syndrome. In other words the older you get, the more likely you are to be affected by them. However there are several other factors linked to the development of vision problems, including:
Family history of eye disease
High blood pressure
Drinking alcohol in excess
High UV exposure
Eye injury or eye surgery
What causes rapid deterioration of eyesight?
If your eyesight worsens quickly – from within a few minutes to a couple of days – it could be caused by one of the following:
If you notice the sudden appearance of floaters in your vision, or the number of floaters you have suddenly increase in number, it may be a sign of a detached retina. Other symptoms include flashes of light in your vision, and having a dark shadow or curtain moving across your vision. A detached retina must be treated quickly to prevent permanent vision loss – call 111 to find out where you should go for help.
Most people who have AMD experience gradual vision loss, but in a small number of cases vision loss can be more sudden (that is, the symptoms develop over a few weeks or months rather than several years). This is a sign of ‘wet’ AMD, which is so called because abnormal blood vessels develop beneath the macula, leaking fluid and blood.
If you have ‘wet’ AMD, it’s usually treated with regular eye injections. According to the NHS, these stop vision getting worse in nine out of 10 people, and improve vision in three out of 10 peopleiii.
As with AMD, glaucoma usually causes a gradual development of symptoms. But occasionally it can come on suddenly, causing intense eye pain, headache, nausea, vomiting, eye redness, blurred vision, tenderness around the eyes and seeing halos around lights. If you develop these symptoms suddenly, go to your nearest eye casualty unit or hospital A&E.
This is a condition that causes inflammation of the middle part of the eye, the uvea. Symptoms that can develop suddenly or gradually over a few days include:
Blurred vision or cloudy vision
Lack of peripheral vision
If any of these affect you, see your GP as soon as possible. If you’re diagnosed with uveitis, it can be treated with steroid eyedrops, injections or tablets.
How can I improve my vision?
Undergoing regular eye tests is the most important step you should take to keep your eyes healthy. When you have an NHS eye test, it doesn’t just check whether or not you need glasses or a stronger prescription. Your optician also looks at the general health of your eyes, which means they can pick up the signs of some eye diseases such as cataracts and glaucoma even before you notice any symptoms.
NHS eye tests are free for people aged 60 or older. At this age you can also have an eye test as often as you need one – though most people get their eyes checked every two years. If you’re not sure, your optician can advise you.
Other things you can do to improve your vision include the following:
Protect your eyes from the sun
The sun’s UV rays can be harmful to your eyes and may increase your risk of developing AMD and cataracts. Look for sunglasses with a built-in UV filter – check that they carry the CE mark or British Standard BS EN ISO 12312-1.
According to the NHS, smoking has been linked with the development of AMD and cataracts.iv Indeed, the RNIB claims smoking doubles your chances of losing your sight, and can also make diabetes-related sight problems worse. If you need help with quitting, try using stop smoking aids such as nicotine patches, gum and lozenges.
Keep your weight healthy
If you’re overweight, it can increase your risk of developing diabetes. And having diabetes can lead to sight loss.
Looking for advice on losing weight? Read Weight Loss: The Facts.
According to the NHS, good circulation and oxygen intake are important for eye healthv. And one way to improve both these things is to take regular exercise.
Try to be physically active every day and reduce the amount of time you spend sitting down. Also aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week (alternatively you can do 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week).
Take can I restore my eyesight naturally?
There are also other things you can do at home to maintain your vision and prevent an existing eye condition from potentially progressing.
A healthy balanced diet can help you manage your weight, which in turn reduces your risk of developing conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes – all of which can lead to vision problems. According to the RNIB, evidence also suggests that having a diet rich in fruit and vegetables may help keep your eyes healthyvi.
Take natural supplements
There are a number of nutritional supplements available that are designed to maintain and improve eye health, including certain types of antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils, and vitamin D.
For further information on natural supplements for eye health as well as loads more about eye conditions and top tips to help keep your eyes healthy, take a look at the rest of our Vision Health Hub.
Royal National Institute of Blind People. Nutritional supplements for age-related macular degeneration. (2018). Available online: https://www.rnib.org.uk/eye-health-eye-conditions-age-related-macular-degeneration-amd/nutritional-supplements-age-related
Royal National Institute of Blind People. Cataracts. (2018). Available online: https://www.rnib.org.uk/eye-health-eye-conditions-z-eye-conditions/cataracts
NHS. Age-Related Cataracts. (2017). Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cataracts
Royal National Institute of Blind People. Nutrition and the Eye. (2018). Available online: https://www.rnib.org.uk/eye-health/looking-after-your-eyes/nutrition-and-eye
Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.